Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Stencil for My Brother

 About 4 months ago my brother Pat, who lives in England, asked me to do a stencil for his newly renovated house. Just being asked to do the stencil was quite a compliment because my brother is an industrial designer and very particular about his house furnishings. 
To give you an example - he painted his living-room seven times before he got exactly the right shade of white he wanted. (And he only got that by mixing two other shades together.) After the room had been painted he ordered some furniture on-line and said he nearly vomited when his couch arrived and it wasn't quite the right shade of white. I didn't know that there was more than one shade of white...let alone seven.

So, getting this request from my brother was very flattering. (Kind of a like a first year piano student being called up to conduct the London Philharmonic!)  For the stencil design  I picked a photo that I'd taken about 2 years ago of my nephew Aidan.  This is one of my favorite photos, and it really captures Aidan's gentle and contemplative personality. 

After putting it through a few filters in photoshop, I came up with this rough idea. 

Pat loved it, and I worked on it for ages - just trying to get Aidan's face (particularly his mouth) right, and also making sure that all the white parts of the design were connected up.  When you make a stencil you can't have any 'white islands' because once you start cutting the stencil out all the islands will fall out and the design will be ruined.  If you look at Aidan's eyes you'll see that I couldn't have a white dot (for his iris) as an island in the middle of the eye - I had to draw a line connecting the white of the iris with the white of his face. 

This was the final stencil design.

I sprayed the stencil onto flat canvas, then rolled it up and sent it over to Pat. Here's a close up photo I took before I sent it (unfortunately the stencil wasn't completely flat, so it looks a bit kinky). 

This are the photos he just sent me.  I'm really pleased with it. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Choosing a photo to make a stencil

I’ve done a little bit of charcoal sketching in the past, but I’m no artist, so to get stencil designs I  start off with a photo.  This photo is of my sister, Maz, standing at the side of our parent's house.

There are a couple of reasons why this photo was ideal to make a stencil with.  Firstly, it really looks like my sister. She has a particular way of standing - a tilt to her head and shoulders - which makes this photo immediately recognisable as her.  I’ve realized if I want to get a stencil that really looks like someone, then the photo has to really look like them to begin with!

I think it also helps that Maz is pretty much made up of dark and light shades. It’s really important that the face has some shadows, because otherwise there’s very little to work with in a black and white stencil! Maz also has some bold features that work well in a stencil – she has a sharp kind of hairstyle, an angular face, sunglasses, and a scarf.

So, if you’re looking through your photo collection for something to make a stencil with look for photos with a lot of contrast, shadows, and bold, strong features.  You’ll probably have more luck with these kinds of photos. 

Here’s a photo of the finished stencil of my sister.  I was pretty pleased with it.  My litmus test of whether or not it was an accurate portrait was to ask my three year old nephew.  “Who’s this?” I asked, holding up the stencil in front of him. He looked at it for about 2 second before smiling and saying, “Auntie Mazzy.”  Success!

If you don’t have any of your own photos to make stencils from then just do a search in Google Images.  You’ll probably come up with hundreds of images, so just scan through them for ones that jump out as being possible stencil material. You can adjust your image search so that you only get black and white photos – sometimes these are easier to get stencil designs from.